Jesus didn’t mean for the life of a Christian to be complicated or difficult to figure out. There were really only three things involved in maintaining a right relationship with God: giving, praying, and fasting. For each of these activities, there was expected to be a reward or you could even say payment from God in return. Jesus made it clear that there would be no spiritual reward given for activities that were done publicly. With regards to giving to the poor, Jesus said, “Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). One of the reasons Jesus cautioned his followers against doing these things publicly was because there were many hypocrites in the synagogues that were making a show of their supposed good works (Matthew 6:2). Instead of making a big deal out of it, Jesus said, “But when thou doest thine alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:3-4).
At the core of Jesus’ teaching was the conflict between an individual’s public and private life. Often times, the person that made a spectacle of giving to the poor was privately committing sins against God. Jesus referred to these people as hypocrites. The Greek word translated hypocrites, hupokrites (hoop-ok-ree-tace´) means “an actor under an assumed character (stage player)” (5273). There was a lack of authenticity in their behavior. Hupokrites is derived from the word hupokrinomai (hoop-ok-rin´-om-ahee) which goes even farther to say that such a person had decided to speak or act under a false part, there was a conscious decision to pretend to be something that one was not (5271). Jesus instructed his disciples:
And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily, I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly. (Matthew 6:5-6).
The Greek word translated secret, kruptos (kroop-tos´) refers to something that is concealed or private (2927), but at the root of this word is the idea of an intentional effort to hide something or cover it up, to keep it a secret (2928). Rather than making a show of their good behavior, Jesus was telling his followers to do everything they could to keep it from being found out. The primary reason for this, Jesus said, was because God sees what we do in secret (Matthew 6:6). God is hidden from our view; we are not aware of his activities. He is constantly doing good things on our behalf and he wants us to do the same.